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Name: Peter
Status: student
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Question:
Hello- I have a large scale question to be answered, Bearing in mind sustainability, global warming, the greenhouse effect, nuclear waste, renewable energy sources and all the other factors involved, is nuclear power the energy source for the future?



Replies:
Dear Peter,

Thanks for your question. Nuclear power will have to be one of the major sources of energy for the foreseeable future. Because energy demand worldwide is growing quickly and will continue to grow for some time as third world countries modernize and industrialized nations continue to evolve technologically, all sources of energy generation must be part of the energy mix. Nuclear power has the advantage of being an established energy generation technology which is also emissions-free. It makes use of fuel (uranium) which has extremely high energy density ­ one gram of uranium can generate as much electricity as 1000 kg. of a fossil fuel. In other words, this is simply too good an energy source to ignore. Uranium is mined in a number of countries (U.S., Canada, Australia, Kazakhstan, Namibia, Niger, Russia, Uzbekistan, others), most of which are politically stable, and it can even be extracted from seawater, so it is reliably available in forms suitable for use in nuclear power reactors. Nuclear power reactor fuel is not directly usable in nuclear weapons.

Here are some further points about nuclear energy:

* Nuclear energy is an enabling energy source for "green" initiatives, such as hydrogen fuel and plug-in electric hybrids, which would allow western nations to reduce our dependence on foreign energy supplies. Without major, non-fossil, baseload energy sources, these green alternatives simply don't make sense. Recharging electric hybrids and producing hydrogen for hydrogen-fueled vehicles require substantial amounts of electricity that 1) can be supplied 24/7/365 on demand and 2) is generated without producing greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear power is the only baseload energy source that meets these criteria.

* Nuclear power plants are the single largest source of emissions-free electricity. Nuclear power is a proven (nearly 50 years of providing baseload electricity), on-demand emissions-free energy generation option that integrates seamlessly into any power grid.

* Myth: “We do not know what to do with the waste from nuclear power plants.” Used fuel from nuclear power plants is not waste ­ it’s mostly made up of uranium and other elements which can be extracted and formed into new fuel. Research and development at Argonne and other laboratories in the U.S. and abroad has resulted in advanced reactor designs and recycling technologies to process used fuel into new fuel.

* Worldwide energy demand is expected to double by 2050 as emerging markets grow their economies. This simply cannot be sustained without significant baseload capacity from established technologies, including nuclear power. China and India have already recognized this fact and are moving forward with ambitious nuclear power plant building programs. France recognized this decades ago and now generates nearly 80% of its electricity from fewer than 60 nuclear reactors. Heavy reliance on more expensive alternatives, such as solar and wind power, puts businesses and industry at a competitive disadvantage. Nuclear power plants are the lowest-cost producer of baseload electricity renewable energy plants. When evaluated on a per gigawatt-hour of capacity basis, total hydrocarbon emissions (from mining and uranium processing) associated with nuclear power generation are about the same as for geothermal, hydroelectric, or wind generation and are less than for solar photovoltaic and biomass. Biofuels generate greenhouse gas (GHG) when land is cleared and the fertilizer used to improve crop yield triggers soil bacteria to release some greenhouse gases. Hydroelectric generates GHG mainly from the water reservoir; solar PV generates GHG primarily from the silicon in the cells; wind generates GHG from the production of the turbine and foundation materials. All forms of energy generation produce GHG in construction and operation of the power plant.

You can learn more about nuclear energy by looking into some of the information links we have assembled on our Nuclear Energy Learning Resources page

(http://students.ne.anl.gov/schools/).

If you have any further questions, please contact us at

neoutreach@anl.gov

Sincerely,

Laural Briggs


Peter

Short Answer: A great big YES.

New designs have made nuclear power plants far more safer and far more efficient than those of just five years ago.

While research has yet to reveal a way to store the nuclear waste, nuclear power will be a large part of the world's future energy supply.

Sincere regards,

Mike Stewart



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